Super Bowl XLII is already remembered as one of the most shocking upsets in sports history — and that’s no hype. But it was also history’s second-most watched American TV broadcast of any kind.
The Super Bowl has finally become a super brand worthy of all the hype. And if you’ve watched as many as I have, you know this is no small statement.
Since the Super Bowl was first played in 1967, the game has embodied the definition of super hype: a bloated embarrassment to the NFL, characterized by blow-outs, sloppy play, and lame half-time shows (unless you really like Up with People). The margin of victory for the first 33 Super Bowls was about 16 points, and only eight games were settled by a touchdown or less.
If you think of a brand as the sum total of the customer experience, for most of its history, the Super Bowl has come up short.
But things are changing. Since 2000, the past nine Super Bowls have been decided by an average of about 11 points, and already five of those games have been settled by 7 points or less. Interestingly, the New England Patriots have played in three of them — losing to the New York Giants 17-14, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21, and the Carolina Panthers 32-29.
And the halftime shows are finally worth watching: Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Prince, the Rolling Stones, and especially Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. My only quibble is that I’d love to see the NFL use halftime to expose us to some up-and-coming acts.
Why is the game improving? The long-term effects of free agency and the NFL salary cap have a lot to do with it because the teams have become more competitive.
The NFL really has achieved a degree of parity (and socialism right under the nose of American capitalism). I mean, in what other league do relatively small markets like Buffalo, Indianapolis, and Green Bay have a chance to be competitive on any given season? (Would you have ever heard of the town of Green Bay were it not for the NFL?)
Moreover, despite what sports fans bemoan as “sports becoming big business,” the NFL has generally evolved to a level of professionalism that other leagues can only dream of, with front offices managed more efficiently and coaching staffs becoming more sophisticated. As a result, today the assistant coaches of a successful Super Bowl caliber teams can become successful head coaches elsewhere, raising the level of overall competitiveness among the teams.
The most gratifying lesson of Super Bowl XLII for any marketer: consumers will reward quality. Yes, they’ll buy crap. But they’ll reward quality even more. Hard to argue with 97 million viewers.